The National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) provides a structure to compare and contrast the level and standard of different qualifications.  This helps you to make informed decisions about your qualification choices and to consider progression opportunities available to you. The NFQ also makes it easier for you  to explain to others what qualifications you hold, or are studying for. This becomes very important when you are considering further learning or when you are applying for a job – at home or abroad.

The NFQ, illustrated by the “fan diagram” is a system of ten levels. It is based on standards of knowledge, skill and competence and it incorporates awards made for all kinds of learning, wherever it is gained. School qualifications awarded by the State Examinations Commission, further education and training qualifications awarded by Further Education and Teaching Awards Council (FETAC) and higher education and training qualifications awarded by Higher Education and Teaching Awards Council, DIT, other Institutes of Technology and the Universities are all included in the Framework.

Qualifications in the NFQ are quality assured. This means that students can have confidence  that their course, and the institution at which they are studying, are reviewed on an ongoing basis. Quality assurance is intended to ensure that all students have a high quality learning experience regardless of where you are studying.

The European and international dimensions of the NFQ are also very important from a student perspective.  Increasingly, students and workers are travelling to other countries for further study or employment. All qualifications in the NFQ are recognised at home and abroad.

The NFQ is used to compare Irish qualifications with foreign qualifications, thus, acting as a valuable tool for Irish graduates travelling abroad who wish to use their Irish qualifications. In addition, students or workers travelling to Ireland with qualifications gained abroad can use the NFQ to have these qualifications recognised.

There are five levels of qualification in Irish higher education. These levels, together with another five from the primary and secondary parts of the education system, make up the NFQ. Levels 6 to 10 are higher education qualifications; from a higher certificate at Level 6 to a PhD at Level 10.

There are three types of full-time undergraduate higher education qualifications a student can pursue:
Level 6 – Higher Certificate
Level 7 – Ordinary Bachelor Degree
Level 8 – Honours Bachelor Degree

In addition to these ‘major’ awards, there are a range of other awards (often gained through part-time study) made at each of the levels, known as minor, supplemental or special purpose awards.

Choosing a course

When choosing a course to study it is important to do your research. Every college will have an online prospectus listing all the available courses and requirements. As well as choosing the area you would like to study and work in keep in mind where the college is situated, what activities and facilities are available and will you need to commute or live in student accommodation.

How long does it take to complete a course?
The length of a course can vary, depending on how and where it is offered. For example, distance education can be structured quite differently to a full-time course on campus. In general, however, a higher certificate course requires two years of full-time study; an ordinary bachelor degree three years; and an honours bachelor degree three or more years.

Part-time Study
Part-time study in higher education is the only realistic option for many people. This route generally takes longer than studying full-time but the benefits are the same at the end of the process.

Structure of Courses
Higher education courses can vary greatly in their day-to-day lecture workload, depending on the field of study and on whether it is part-time or full-time. Don’t forget to check this out as part of your research when choosing a course. Also, if you are interested in work placement modules within courses (either at home or abroad) or the option to study abroad for a period of a course, make sure to find out if courses on your shortlist offer these opportunities.

Your Interests are Key
Your own interests and strengths are key to choosing the right higher education course for you. You may already have a vocational area targeted or you may want to choose a broad field of study, for instance in the Arts, Humanities or Sciences. The key to making a good decision is to get as much guidance as you can and to do plenty of research on your own interests and strengths, on jobs and careers that might be of interest, and on the courses that could go on your ‘shortlist’. Don’t forget to investigate individual courses. Besides different levels of qualification, some courses can take a more practical approach than others.